Luke Ratliff's presence lives on for Alabama basketball

Tony_Tsoukalas

All American
Staff
Feb 5, 2014
15,980
57,666
1,283
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The plaid jacket weighed heavily on Blake Bullock’s shoulders while the loss of the person who previously donned it tugged at the heart of everyone inside Coleman Coliseum.

Alabama basketball tipped off its season Tuesday night as fans were treated to their first real glimpse of five-star guard JD Davison and a reloaded lineup following last year’s Sweet 16 run. Davison didn’t disappoint and neither did the Crimson Tide as it shoved aside Lousiana Tech 93-64 to begin what could be a historic campaign on the right note.

Alabama packed Coleman Coliseum with 12,613 fans, including a rowdy student section that hounded the referees on every wayward whistle. It was the sort of pandemonium Cameron Luke Ratliff orchestrated so perfectly over the past five years.

Ratliff, better known as “Fluff,” passed away on April 2 from complications of COVID-19, days after Alabama’s season came to an end with a loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16. The 23-year-old Alabama student had become synonymous with the Crimson Tide’s basketball program, following the team home and away. Adorned in his patented plaid blazer, Ratliff served as the ringleader of Alabama’s student section, “Crimson Chaos,” bringing life to an arena previously criticized for its static atmosphere.

Before Tuesday night’s game, Alabama held a ceremony remembering its biggest fan, displaying a memorial video of Ratliff while retiring his seat in the student section. The university also presented a plaid coat to Bullock, who will look to continue Ratliff’s legacy as the next leader of the student section.

“Obviously, no one is going to replace Luke,” Bullock said before the game “but I’m going to try to live up to what he brought as much as I can.”

Tuesday night, Ratliff would have been proud.

Alabama’s student section roared when Davison hammered home a fastbreak dunk in the first half. It chastised Louisiana Tech forward Kenneth Lofton Jr. following both of his air-ball misses. It even convinced head coach Nate Oats to pull the trigger on bringing walk-on Tyler Barnes into the game to finish off the blowout.

It was the type of night Ratliff would have reveled in and the sort of atmosphere he worked so tirelessly to build.

“Hopefully, the spirit of what he was about stays with the student section,” Oats said after the game. “I think the administration’s done an unbelievable job moving forward with what he stood for, giving the plaid jacket to the next student. Let’s keep that thing rolling.”

’Bama called​


Ratliff grew up in Wadesboro, N.C., a sleepy town on the southern border of the state. At an early age, his father, Bryan Ratliff, attempted to sway him toward home-state UNC, driving up to Chapel Hill to watch the Tar Heels on the hardwood. Luke never bit on the powder blue, choosing instead to cheer on the Crimson Tide from afar.

He was introduced to Alabama by a neighboring couple who graduated from the university. Instantly drawn to the program, he’d tune in any time the Tide was on television. Generally, that involved Alabama’s football team, but at least once a year Crimson Tide hoops would find its way onto the local cable stations.

“He’d watch it, and I’d watch it with him,” Luke’s mom, Pamela Ratliff said. “That’s what he and I did. Honestly, I don’t think it was one sport over the other. He just wanted to watch everything Alabama. It was always Alabama, and we just became an Alabama family.”

By the time Luke reached college age, his decision to attend Alabama didn’t come as a surprise. He considered a few other schools including Baylor, Ole Miss and Eastern Tennessee State, but once the Tide came calling his heart was set.

“I remember when the colleges started sending out the letters, the very first one that Luke got was from Alabama. I’ve still got it,” Pamela said. “The day he got accepted, that was it. I think it was destiny. He was meant to be at Alabama.”

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Creating chaos​

Luke brought his love of basketball to Alabama in 2016 when the Tide’s program was still in the doldrums. During its second year under head coach Avery Johnson, Alabama floundered to a 19-15 record, ending its season with a disappointing loss to Richmond in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

The dull and indifferent mood inside Coleman Colesium that night was a stark contrast to the fever pitch felt during Tuesday night’s opener. Although, where others saw a middling program, Luke imagined its potential.

Luke rallied behind Alabama, focusing on a promising 2017 recruiting class that included future stars such as Collin Sexton, Herbert Jones, John Petty Jr. and Alex Reese. Over time, his optimism mixed with his uncanny wit and charisma during games began to galvanize the Tide’s student section.

“If you’re standing next to Luke, it’s pretty hard to be quiet,” Bullock said. “For one, when you see somebody like him acting a fool, being loud, it makes you want to join in. But also, he wouldn’t be afraid to point at someone and be like ‘Hey you, you got to be louder.’ He’d tell you if you needed to bring more energy. It was crazy. He made sure it was pedal to the metal for all 40 minutes.”

According to Pamela, Luke was the shyest of her three boys growing up. Although, that was impossible to tell for anyone who encountered him at one of Alabama’s games.

The middle child of the family, Luke’s social skills were molded from a young age as he balanced relationships between his older brother, Brandon, and his younger brother, Noah, who was born with autism. Brandon kept Luke in check, inspiring his quick-wittedness and charm, while Noah sculpted his patient, protective nature.

“It’s amazing how he could flip between the two personalities,” Pamela said. “He could just adapt to whatever situation he was in.”

That skill helped Luke build a following inside Crimson Chaos. While the organization didn’t have a defined leader back then, students gravitated toward both his authenticity and fun-loving approach in the stands.

On top of making people feel welcome, he also had a knack for getting them to laugh. His most famous courtside antics occurred during the 2017-18 season when he donned an FBI jacket to troll Auburn for its involvement in a federal investigation into college basketball’s pay-for-play scandal. He became a must-follow account on social media too, making jokes at the expense of opposing coaches. While Alabama’s form on the court fluctuated, “Fluff” made sure Tide fans were always entertained.

“Luke was a big part of building the atmosphere around Alabama to what it is today,” said Raegan Starner, the owner of Tuscaloosa’s R&R Cigars and a close friend of Luke’s. “If you look at Bama Hoops, the students would come out for bigs games, but they were coming to go watch the other team. Then they started coming to watch Alabama basketball, but they also came to watch Luke because he was so dynamic as the fan leader. There were so many people that came because of him, even before there was a product to sell.”

a3k4immrmurkhwaw7giy


Beyond the Fluff​

One of Luke’s first stops in Tuscaloosa was to R&R Cigars. A connoisseur of cigars and bourbon, the mansion’s smoke-filled rooms displaying sports on big-screen televisions served as an oasis in an unfamiliar town. Over time, it developed into a refuge.

Looking for a bit of familiarity roughly eight hours away from home, Luke became a regular at his new favorite haunt. It started on Sundays as he took advantage of the mansion’s NFL package to watch his beloved Dallas Cowboys. That’s how he met Starner.

The relationship initially revolved around sports and other casual conversations as the two discussed their tastes in cigars, bourbons and bands. As Luke’s visits became more frequent, the topics grew deeper.

“We started to talk more, and we became really good friends really quickly,” Starner said. “Before you knew it, he became one of my best friends.”

While most knew Luke for his extroverted behavior at games, his closest friends were privy to his struggles with anxiety and depression. Starner remembers nights when the two would stay up talking inside the cigar mansion until 6 a.m., delving into issues at school, with girls, or life in general.

“A lot of people knew Luke as Fluff, but I knew him as Cameron,” Starner said, referring to Luke’s first name. “That was the great part about here was I got to see him outside of all that.”

Despite his newfound fame and popularity, there were times where Luke searched for acceptance. Early on, he often referred to his role in Crimson Chaos as a “thankless job,” stating that he felt his efforts to aid the program went unnoticed or unappreciated by many. That changed this past February following a small but meaningful gesture from the Tide’s coaching staff.

After a specifically trying day, Starner remembers Luke coming to him disheartened by the fact that his signature plaid jacket had ripped to the point of no repair.

“He goes up to me and said, ‘They told me my jacket had gone to be with Coach Bryant,’” Starner recalled. “He had worn the hell out of it and had it stitched up a few times, but there was finally nothing more they could do with it.”

The following night, a couple of Alabama basketball assistants visited the cigar mansion, spotting a dejected Luke. After explaining his situation, Luke was surprised to hear the team had his back. Days later assistant coaches Bryan Hodgson and Antoine Pettway presented him with a tailored plaid jacket during a game.

“That was the night that everything changed for Luke,” Starner said. “That’s was when he realized that they saw and appreciated him and that he was in. Luke loved mafia movies. Them getting him the jacket was him becoming a made man. Everything he had been working for paid off.”

The new sports coat served as a uniform for Luke who iconically donned it to each of Alabama’s remaining games. It reenergized him, providing him with an extra spark as he cheered the Tide to both an SEC regular-season and conference tournament title up until its run to the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.

Following his death, Ratliff was buried in the jacket along with a piece of the net from when Alabama clinched the conference title.

“Getting that jacket meant the world to him,” Pamela said. “I remember him bringing it home and hanging it up and saying ‘I’ve never had a jacket with my own name in it.’ He was really over the moon. I think at that point he felt like he found his spot.”

hd153v4umpcrpvjnymdh


A lasting legacy​

On top of memorializing Ratliff’s seat in the student section, Alabama will also be creating a gift fund in his name that will allow future leaders of Crimson Chaos to travel to road games.

"He's more than just a fan," Oats said. "It felt like he was part of the program. I met him early. He was here early. Shoot, there were times when he was here for shootaround four hours before the game, setting stuff up. You can tell what kind of passion he had. To me, that's what college athletics embodies, a student who’s just all in."

Pamela said she has been touched by the outreach and support the Ratliff family has received from both the university and the Crimson Tide community, stating the countless stories shared with her about her son have helped her progress over the past few months. When asked how she wanted her Luke to be remembered, she didn’t hesitate.

“He was genuine and kind, and he saw everyone equally,” Pamela said. “That’s the biggest thing I want my child to be remembered by. That was Luke.”
 

HighTide Warning

All Conference
Gold Member
Oct 4, 2010
250
383
83
Montgomery
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The plaid jacket weighed heavily on Blake Bullock’s shoulders while the loss of the person who previously donned it tugged at the heart of everyone inside Coleman Coliseum.

Alabama basketball tipped off its season Tuesday night as fans were treated to their first real glimpse of five-star guard JD Davison and a reloaded lineup following last year’s Sweet 16 run. Davison didn’t disappoint and neither did the Crimson Tide as it shoved aside Lousiana Tech 93-64 to begin what could be a historic campaign on the right note.

Alabama packed Coleman Coliseum with 12,613 fans, including a rowdy student section that hounded the referees on every wayward whistle. It was the sort of pandemonium Cameron Luke Ratliff orchestrated so perfectly over the past five years.

Ratliff, better known as “Fluff,” passed away on April 2 from complications of COVID-19, days after Alabama’s season came to an end with a loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16. The 23-year-old Alabama student had become synonymous with the Crimson Tide’s basketball program, following the team home and away. Adorned in his patented plaid blazer, Ratliff served as the ringleader of Alabama’s student section, “Crimson Chaos,” bringing life to an arena previously criticized for its static atmosphere.

Before Tuesday night’s game, Alabama held a ceremony remembering its biggest fan, displaying a memorial video of Ratliff while retiring his seat in the student section. The university also presented a plaid coat to Bullock, who will look to continue Ratliff’s legacy as the next leader of the student section.

“Obviously, no one is going to replace Luke,” Bullock said before the game “but I’m going to try to live up to what he brought as much as I can.”

Tuesday night, Ratliff would have been proud.

Alabama’s student section roared when Davison hammered home a fastbreak dunk in the first half. It chastised Louisiana Tech forward Kenneth Lofton Jr. following both of his air-ball misses. It even convinced head coach Nate Oats to pull the trigger on bringing walk-on Tyler Barnes into the game to finish off the blowout.

It was the type of night Ratliff would have reveled in and the sort of atmosphere he worked so tirelessly to build.

“Hopefully, the spirit of what he was about stays with the student section,” Oats said after the game. “I think the administration’s done an unbelievable job moving forward with what he stood for, giving the plaid jacket to the next student. Let’s keep that thing rolling.”

’Bama called​


Ratliff grew up in Wadesboro, N.C., a sleepy town on the southern border of the state. At an early age, his father, Bryan Ratliff, attempted to sway him toward home-state UNC, driving up to Chapel Hill to watch the Tar Heels on the hardwood. Luke never bit on the powder blue, choosing instead to cheer on the Crimson Tide from afar.

He was introduced to Alabama by a neighboring couple who graduated from the university. Instantly drawn to the program, he’d tune in any time the Tide was on television. Generally, that involved Alabama’s football team, but at least once a year Crimson Tide hoops would find its way onto the local cable stations.

“He’d watch it, and I’d watch it with him,” Luke’s mom, Pamela Ratliff said. “That’s what he and I did. Honestly, I don’t think it was one sport over the other. He just wanted to watch everything Alabama. It was always Alabama, and we just became an Alabama family.”

By the time Luke reached college age, his decision to attend Alabama didn’t come as a surprise. He considered a few other schools including Baylor, Ole Miss and Eastern Tennessee State, but once the Tide came calling his heart was set.

“I remember when the colleges started sending out the letters, the very first one that Luke got was from Alabama. I’ve still got it,” Pamela said. “The day he got accepted, that was it. I think it was destiny. He was meant to be at Alabama.”

ajyhxbiiaqd8pfrrjmfo


Creating chaos​

Luke brought his love of basketball to Alabama in 2016 when the Tide’s program was still in the doldrums. During its second year under head coach Avery Johnson, Alabama floundered to a 19-15 record, ending its season with a disappointing loss to Richmond in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

The dull and indifferent mood inside Coleman Colesium that night was a stark contrast to the fever pitch felt during Tuesday night’s opener. Although, where others saw a middling program, Luke imagined its potential.

Luke rallied behind Alabama, focusing on a promising 2017 recruiting class that included future stars such as Collin Sexton, Herbert Jones, John Petty Jr. and Alex Reese. Over time, his optimism mixed with his uncanny wit and charisma during games began to galvanize the Tide’s student section.

“If you’re standing next to Luke, it’s pretty hard to be quiet,” Bullock said. “For one, when you see somebody like him acting a fool, being loud, it makes you want to join in. But also, he wouldn’t be afraid to point at someone and be like ‘Hey you, you got to be louder.’ He’d tell you if you needed to bring more energy. It was crazy. He made sure it was pedal to the metal for all 40 minutes.”

According to Pamela, Luke was the shyest of her three boys growing up. Although, that was impossible to tell for anyone who encountered him at one of Alabama’s games.

The middle child of the family, Luke’s social skills were molded from a young age as he balanced relationships between his older brother, Brandon, and his younger brother, Noah, who was born with autism. Brandon kept Luke in check, inspiring his quick-wittedness and charm, while Noah sculpted his patient, protective nature.

“It’s amazing how he could flip between the two personalities,” Pamela said. “He could just adapt to whatever situation he was in.”

That skill helped Luke build a following inside Crimson Chaos. While the organization didn’t have a defined leader back then, students gravitated toward both his authenticity and fun-loving approach in the stands.

On top of making people feel welcome, he also had a knack for getting them to laugh. His most famous courtside antics occurred during the 2017-18 season when he donned an FBI jacket to troll Auburn for its involvement in a federal investigation into college basketball’s pay-for-play scandal. He became a must-follow account on social media too, making jokes at the expense of opposing coaches. While Alabama’s form on the court fluctuated, “Fluff” made sure Tide fans were always entertained.

“Luke was a big part of building the atmosphere around Alabama to what it is today,” said Raegan Starner, the owner of Tuscaloosa’s R&R Cigars and a close friend of Luke’s. “If you look at Bama Hoops, the students would come out for bigs games, but they were coming to go watch the other team. Then they started coming to watch Alabama basketball, but they also came to watch Luke because he was so dynamic as the fan leader. There were so many people that came because of him, even before there was a product to sell.”

a3k4immrmurkhwaw7giy


Beyond the Fluff​

One of Luke’s first stops in Tuscaloosa was to R&R Cigars. A connoisseur of cigars and bourbon, the mansion’s smoke-filled rooms displaying sports on big-screen televisions served as an oasis in an unfamiliar town. Over time, it developed into a refuge.

Looking for a bit of familiarity roughly eight hours away from home, Luke became a regular at his new favorite haunt. It started on Sundays as he took advantage of the mansion’s NFL package to watch his beloved Dallas Cowboys. That’s how he met Starner.

The relationship initially revolved around sports and other casual conversations as the two discussed their tastes in cigars, bourbons and bands. As Luke’s visits became more frequent, the topics grew deeper.

“We started to talk more, and we became really good friends really quickly,” Starner said. “Before you knew it, he became one of my best friends.”

While most knew Luke for his extroverted behavior at games, his closest friends were privy to his struggles with anxiety and depression. Starner remembers nights when the two would stay up talking inside the cigar mansion until 6 a.m., delving into issues at school, with girls, or life in general.

“A lot of people knew Luke as Fluff, but I knew him as Cameron,” Starner said, referring to Luke’s first name. “That was the great part about here was I got to see him outside of all that.”

Despite his newfound fame and popularity, there were times where Luke searched for acceptance. Early on, he often referred to his role in Crimson Chaos as a “thankless job,” stating that he felt his efforts to aid the program went unnoticed or unappreciated by many. That changed this past February following a small but meaningful gesture from the Tide’s coaching staff.

After a specifically trying day, Starner remembers Luke coming to him disheartened by the fact that his signature plaid jacket had ripped to the point of no repair.

“He goes up to me and said, ‘They told me my jacket had gone to be with Coach Bryant,’” Starner recalled. “He had worn the hell out of it and had it stitched up a few times, but there was finally nothing more they could do with it.”

The following night, a couple of Alabama basketball assistants visited the cigar mansion, spotting a dejected Luke. After explaining his situation, Luke was surprised to hear the team had his back. Days later assistant coaches Bryan Hodgson and Antoine Pettway presented him with a tailored plaid jacket during a game.

“That was the night that everything changed for Luke,” Starner said. “That’s was when he realized that they saw and appreciated him and that he was in. Luke loved mafia movies. Them getting him the jacket was him becoming a made man. Everything he had been working for paid off.”

The new sports coat served as a uniform for Luke who iconically donned it to each of Alabama’s remaining games. It reenergized him, providing him with an extra spark as he cheered the Tide to both an SEC regular-season and conference tournament title up until its run to the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis.

Following his death, Ratliff was buried in the jacket along with a piece of the net from when Alabama clinched the conference title.

“Getting that jacket meant the world to him,” Pamela said. “I remember him bringing it home and hanging it up and saying ‘I’ve never had a jacket with my own name in it.’ He was really over the moon. I think at that point he felt like he found his spot.”

hd153v4umpcrpvjnymdh


A lasting legacy​

On top of memorializing Ratliff’s seat in the student section, Alabama will also be creating a gift fund in his name that will allow future leaders of Crimson Chaos to travel to road games.

"He's more than just a fan," Oats said. "It felt like he was part of the program. I met him early. He was here early. Shoot, there were times when he was here for shootaround four hours before the game, setting stuff up. You can tell what kind of passion he had. To me, that's what college athletics embodies, a student who’s just all in."

Pamela said she has been touched by the outreach and support the Ratliff family has received from both the university and the Crimson Tide community, stating the countless stories shared with her about her son have helped her progress over the past few months. When asked how she wanted her Luke to be remembered, she didn’t hesitate.

“He was genuine and kind, and he saw everyone equally,” Pamela said. “That’s the biggest thing I want my child to be remembered by. That was Luke.”
What a wonderful story Tony. Brought tears to my eyes for this wonderful young man. Just proves that anyone can make a difference in life when they find their passion for something. Great job by The University retiring his seat and recognizing his contributions to turn our basketball program around. He will ALWAYS be remembered for his contributions to the program.